Preparing for Kat’s Arrival: Sewing, Cooking and Freezing

As I have come into the third trimester of my pregnancy with Kat, I have come to a few determinations.

One is that pregnancy is much easier on a 24-year-old body than it is on a 40-year-old body.

This does not mean that I regret having Kat; it just means that I am noticing a distinct difference in how my body responds to pregnancy this time around. My responses to pregnancy when I was twenty-four were much more classic: very tired, nauseous and cranky in the first trimester, very energetic and take charge in the second trimester, and then back to tired and cranky (and on bedrest) for the third trimester. (So far, we have avoided bedrest this time around. But for the last six weeks of my pregnancy with Morganna, my blood-pressure shot up, there was some protein in my urine and I started retaining fluid like a ripening watermelon. Fears of pre-eclampsia forced my doctor to tell me I had to go to bed and stay there, lest I end up in the hospital. In addition, I had to eat a low-sodium diet. This did not make me happy, but fear of hospital stays made me comply. But let it be known, that I am of the firm opinion that bed rest utterly and completely sucks.)

This time around, my experiences have been different. I was tired, nauseous and cranky for the frst trimester, and couldn’t eat meat. The not eating meat is distinctly opposite of my experience with Morganna where I craved meat of all sorts, particularly bloody rare or raw steaks. Not so this time. The scent of blood would send me running to the toilet. The second trimester, the nausea mostly faded, and I got -some- energy back, but never experienced the amorousness or the burst of crazy energy that most women seem to get in the middle three months of pregnancy. I returned to being able to eat -some- meats, but not very many, and found myself craving a lot of beans and corn and whole grains. And greens! I still go crazy for greens. (And chocolate, but that is a constant with me anyway.)
This third trimester has seen the return of the nausea, a return of the very strong meat aversion (I am disgusted to find that I only like to eat ground meats, chicken–so long as it is not bloody when I cut it up) and cured meats like ham, bacon or sausages. I also can eat and crave fish, which is good so long as I avoid the mercury-laden ones like tuna.), and a dwindling of energy that is very irritating, since I feel like I need to do everything in the world to get ready for Kat’s birth.

What is it I am doing?

Well, I am working on a quilt for her, and even though my sewing machine has started showing signs of becoming possessed again, the work is going well and reasonably fast. It is a very brightly colored scrappy quilt done primarily in batiks and hand-dyed fabrics from my stash, that include some hand-painted Indonesian batiks of dragons. You can kind of see them up in the photo at the beginning of the entry there. When the quilt top is done, which should (cross my fingers) be sometime this week, I will post a photo of it.

What do I mean when I say my machine is showing signs of becoming possessed? Well, I seem to have this effect on machinery that I use often–maybe Dan will pipe in on the comments and talk about all of the evil things that my presence used to do to the copy machines, heat tape binders and computers at the copy shop where we used to work together. Mechanical machines are the most badly affected, and the sewing machine I have is very much a mechanical one. (I break mechanical watches when I wear them–they just stop. My mother is the same way, and so was her father–interestingly, all three of us can also dowse for water. Weird crap. Grandpa’s theory was that we had some sort of difference in our electromagnetic field that caused these effects.) Anyway, sewing machines will work for me for a certain period of time, and then just start going haywire in weird ways. I do all the troubleshooting things one is supposed to do, and most of the time, these efforts do nothing, and the machine either has to be taken in for adjustments, or it just starts working again on its own recognizance.

The latter is what happened to my machine. On Saturday, while I tried to work on the quilt, it started losing it and eating fabric, the tension on the bobbin thread went mad, and the upper thread just started breaking for no reason. Nothing I did helped. I was certain that I would have to drive the beastie to Columbus this week to get it worked on, and had resolved to do this (though I did threaten the machine that if I had a shotgun, the three of us–machine, shotgun and I–would be going to the backyard and the machine would have been blown into a thousand pieces by the time I was finished with it), and had finally calmed down over it.

Yesterday, on a whim, I decided to try and see if it would behave.

It worked like a brand new machine that had just been tuned up, cleaned and oiled.

That is what I mean by “possessed.”

The other preparations I have been making have been in the kitchen. I am cleaning out our freezer and refilling it with food that Morganna and Zak can just pull out and either microwave or throw into the oven. So, I have been cooking a lot of old standards and favorites, (which I have already blogged about), such as chili, Vegetarian Enchiladas Verde, lasagne, and shepherd’s pie, and breaking up the recipes into two portions. One, we eat right away, and the second portion, I either layer into aluminum foil pans, and seal up with foil then freeze, or I dump into freezer bags, label and freeze. That way, we don’t have leftovers, but, we also have dinners ready for right after we bring Kat home to eat while I am recuperating and concentrating on getting into a breastfeeding routine with Kat.

Here is a good place to talk a little bit about freezing things for later.

Some foods freeze well.

Some foods do not.

Most things like stews, soups, and casseroles freeze really well. For stews, soups, chilis and pasta sauces, I cook them all the way, cool them all the way, and then pack them into ziplock freezer bags, press out all the excess air, and freeze them right away. (It helps if you label the bag with a Sharpie permanent marker before you fill it. After you fill it or freeze it, it is rather a pain in the butt to label it properly. And when I say properly, I mean, put the name of what you made, how many servings, and the date. Always put the date on the package.)

Potatoes in stews and soups and curries don’t so much freeze well. They get mushy in the freezer. If you must have them, it is best to omit them, and then make a note on the package for them to be added after the meal is thawed and warmed up on the stove. It never hurts a soup or stew or curry to cook a bit longer anyway, and so you can let it simmer along, then add some freshly cut up ‘taters, and then garnish it all up nice when the potatoes are done and voila–you have a fresh-tasting meal.

There is an exception to the potatoes rule. Mashed potatoes are fine frozen–in large part, I suspect because they are already mushy. So shepherd’s pie works fine, or heck, just a container of frozen mashed potatoes works nicely as well.

Casseroles I do differently. I love those little square foil pans that you can get at the grocery store. I use those to layer up a portion of the recipe, which I follow up to the baking part. Then, I seal up the pan with some foil, upon which I have written the necesssary information, including baking instructions, and boom, into the freezer it goes. Once it is frozen, I then take it back out and seal the whole thing up in a large ziplock freezer bag which I push the excess air from. This keeps the casserole tasting fresher–foil in a freezer can get pushed aside and opened up, and can allow freezer burn to happen.

Tonight, I am going to do two pans of moussaka, a classic Greek casserole of eggplant, potatoes, lamb and tomato sauce and a thick, egg and cheese enriched bechemel topping. To freeze that, I will layer to the vegetables and meat sauce and leave off the bechemel, then freeze it. The bechemel instructions I will print out, seal onto the foil wrapper with freezer tape, then seal the whole thing into a bag and put in the freezer. That way, Morganna or Zak can make the bechamel and pour it over the thawed casserole, then stick it in the oven. (Or, for that matter, I can make the bechamel and pour it over before popping it in the oven, while Zak or Morganna make salad.)

I need to get into making some pasta sauces, and putting them up in bags. Some puttanesca would be nice and freezes well, as does bolognese.

And–another project for this week includes the making of chicken stock–this will help me clear out my freezers of chicken bones, necks, feet and backs, which have been stored there with the intention of making stock at some point in the near future. I’ll drag those out today, let them thaw in the fridge, and then probably tomorrow, put the big stockpot on the stove and just watch it all day. (Yes, look for posts about moussaka and chicken stock later this week.) That way, the finished stock will take up less room than the bones, and it will be easy for me to take out and use what I need after Kat is born.

Until tomorrow, then, good cooking to you all! (I am off to see if my sewing machine is still behaving or if it has gone the way of Damien.)

13 Comments

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  1. //Yes, look for posts about moussaka//

    :)

    was going to ask for a post on moussaka.

    A question. can i use pork instead of lamb in moussaka.

    looking forward to your post on moussaka.

    good luck with the sewing machine. :smile:

    Comment by Mathy Kandasamy — August 28, 2006 #

  2. Isn’t it interesting how differently a body can respond to each pregnancy, and how differently pregnancy can seem at different ages? Good for you for being so reflective about the experience, and for keeping up a great blog at the same time!

    Comment by risingsunofnihon — August 28, 2006 #

  3. Wow, how organized…I too am clearing out the freezer slaughterhouse and making stock this weekend.

    I wish you all the best for healthy and good final days of the pregnancy – can’t wait to “meet” Kat!

    Comment by Diane — August 28, 2006 #

  4. Barbara, you must have been a dervish at twenty-four in T2, because reading of some of your current adventures makes me tired ;).

    I love those batiky square things, here is Maya inspecting something I made of them.

    Comment by Charlotte — August 28, 2006 #

  5. Good grief, big sister! You must be the most organized and considerate family member I’ve ever met! Zak and Morganna should be really, really appreciative of your thoughtfulness. After all, you’ll be working hard and sleeping very little in the coming months!

    Comment by Hadar — August 29, 2006 #

  6. Sounds like you are getting into the famous “nesting” stage of the pregnancy which reportedly comes just before the birth – congratulations on coming into the home stretch! Personally, I still haven’t hit that nesting part and we are hoping to get our 20 month old’s room decorated some time this month…. ; )

    Comment by Meg — August 29, 2006 #

  7. Barbara, please please please post on chicken stock soon! I have tried to make it before, lots of times, but ended up with kind of grey dishwater. I’ve only ever successfully made vegetable stock. I’d really like to know how you do it :)

    After so many disasters despite trying different methods/recipes, you’re the only person I’d now trust, I think :))

    Steph

    Comment by Steph — August 29, 2006 #

  8. Steph: Barbara is the “gold standard” for all things food, but here is how I make stock:

    3-4 pounds meaty bones (if I am making SOUP, as opposed to stock, I would use a whole chicken and use the meat later for other stuff, but most of the time it’s just bones. They are fine for stock). Remove big pieces of fat.
    (2) chicken feet (if you can find them)
    (1-2) parsnips
    (2) carrots
    (1) onion
    a couple of sprigs parsley
    (2) peppercorns
    (2) bay leaves
    salt

    Chop vegies roughly into large chunks. Cut onion in half. I leave on onion skin for color, but you don’t have to. Throw all, along with herbs into a stock pot. Add water just to cover (no more than 1″ – 2″ over the top of everything). Bring to a low simmer. Skim yucky foam off top. Partially cover. Reduce heat to VERY LOW but enough so it keeps a simmer. This is important. If you do a fast boil it will get all cloudy. Simmer for around three hours. Remove all solids. Add salt to taste.

    I strain stock and keep it in fridge overnight. The next day I remove the fat that solidifies on top, and then parcel it up in smaller containers to freeze.

    Comment by Diane — August 29, 2006 #

  9. Thanks Diane, I’ll give that a go. I’ve got enough meaty bones/carcasses saved up in the freezer. I don’t think the recipes I’ve used have had enough veggies in, and the chopping up is important I think. Also, I’ve cooked too hard/fast. I expect they’re typical British recipes, where the end result is supposed to be like cloudy dishwater – lol!

    Comment by Steph — August 29, 2006 #

  10. A few more “stock thoughts”:
    1. If you have celery you can throw that in too. I never have it around and hate buying just for stock, so I leave it out.

    2. If it tastes thin, just simmer a bit longer and let it reduce a bit. That helps concentrate flavors.

    3. Stock is only as good as your base ingedients…

    Good luck!

    Comment by Diane — August 29, 2006 #

  11. More on stock: you don’t *need* the veggies if you’re making a blank stock (one suitable for any cuisine). Since my chicken stock is called upon to do avgolemono, Thai soups, southern style chicken and dumpling soup, risotto, French onion soup and a wide variety of other things, I find a blank stock preferable. If your stock is not doing so many contradictory cuisines, use the right veggies for your cuisine of choice.

    If you can’t find chicken feet, chicken wings or backs will work. Necks are good too. If you’ve got a local chicken farm that does their own butchering, you can often buy bags of bones from them, which works out nicely for stock.

    I find if I have good quality chickens, the stock is a golden color even without onion skin. Poor quality chickens make a less golden stock. Accidentally having bits of red pepper from your roast chicken’s bed of veggies stuck to the carcass will give an almost orange tint to the stock, but won’t ruin the flavor. I find that if the stock produces a thin and soft gel when cooled in the fridge, it’s got the right amount of body and flavor for most uses. A firm gel is good for saving freezer space tho.

    Comment by Emily Cartier — August 30, 2006 #

  12. Emily may indeed be right, but I find that the stock I make works for all purposes – it’s flavorful and not intrusive in taste. The parsnips do however make it sweet – you could leave those out to make it simpler and more “blank”.

    Comment by Diane — August 30, 2006 #

  13. Hey, everyone!

    I am glad to have the ability to cook up some food to have in the freezer for us to eat for the post-partum period. I remember how wiped out I was after Morganna was born, and I have to say that it was good that I was living with my ex-mother-in-law at the time, or I would have starved to death, because I just couldn;t muster up the energy to cook. Or, do much of anything.

    So, I am preparing ahead this time. In addition, Morganna has offered to cook, Zak’s Dad said he would stay for a while and cook, my Mom will be visiting and I bet she would cook, and our dear friend Heather, who is a very good cook indeed, has said she would bring us food. Bless her heart!

    So, I think we should be okay.

    I hope, anyway!

    As for the stock–I am gathering up all of the ingredients I have stashed in the freezer tomorrow to start thawing. I have chicken necks, backs, feet, bones and a whole chicken to stick in the pot. I figure I will make a stewed chicken so I can make a batch of chicken and noodles to freeze so that all Morganna would have to do is thaw it out, heat it up and make a pot of mashed potatoes and a salad and boom! We have dinner….

    I always use carrots, leeks and onions, and I find that it is a neutral enough stock to serve almost all purposes.

    I have some fresh turmeric root to help out the color, and it will give it a nice clean flavor. I also use celery seed instead of celery because I always have that on hand.

    I am going to make a blanc stock–not a brun stock. A blanc or white stock is made with unbrowned chicken bones. Browning the bones first deepens the flavor and color of the stock, but it is not nearly as neutral as a plain white stock is.

    Steph–the reason your stock tasted like cloudy dish water has to do with how fast you boiled it. Never let stock boil–it brings out impurities from the bones that then circulate throughout the stock, instead of rising to the top where they can be skimmed away if you do it at a simmer. These impurities–blood and other unsavory things–will make a stock bitter.

    And, as Diane said, the stock will -never- clarify if you boil it. Those bits will stay forever.

    Always start with cold water, too–that is a mistake that people often make, thinking to speed up the process by starting with hot water. If you start wit cold water first, and heat it gradually, it will help dissolve more of the gelatin from the bones and cartilage and connective tissues, and you will end up with a much clearer stock with more body. Gelatin is what makes stock gel in the fridge when you chill it, and when the stock is hot, it is what contributes a smooth and rich mouthfeel to it.

    Have no fear–I will write a megapost on stockmaking–as it is a fundamental of cookery that is often ignored, misunderstood or simply feared by many cooks. And it needn’t be that way.

    Comment by Barbara — August 30, 2006 #

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